The U.S. Conference of Mayors announced a conference held in February on the issue of mass incarceration and the need to get ex-offenders employed. Featuring mayors form major American cities, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the announced purpose of the conference was to help former inmates find jobs after their release and to avoid going back to jail.
According the press release:
With 1 in 31 American adults in prison, jail, on parole or probation, the US prison system is in crisis. Hundreds of prisons nationwide are overcrowded to the breaking point, and high recidivism rates are largely to blame: 39 percent of prisoners have served three or more sentences. This cycling in and out of prisons is taking a devastating economic toll on already-vulnerable urban communities. At this critical moment, policymakers and experts are determined to come together and develop concrete solutions to making sure that people who leave prison do not reoffend and go back.
This conference underscores an emerging issue of how society deals with individuals with criminal records. On one hand, if an employer hires someone for a job with an unsuitable criminal record, and some harm occurs, the employer may face the prospects of a negligent hiring lawsuit.
On the other hand, without a job, an ex-offender is likely to end up back in custody, and unless we as a society would rather build more prisons than schools and hospitals, some way is needed for ex-offenders to get back to work. In addition, there is an increased likeliness going forward of discrimination lawsuits where ex-offenders were denied employment without a business justification.
Background screening firms are often caught in the middle of this debate. Although a screening firm does not make the hiring decision, screening firms are hired by employers to research potential criminal records. A background screening firm should clearly advise employers that there are limitations on the use of criminal records. There are various state laws that limit what an employer can consider. In addition, the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has made it clear that a criminal record should only be used where there is a business justification. There are also special rules governing arrests that did not result in a conviction.
For more information on the use of criminal records, contact Jared Callahan at ESR by e-mail at [email protected] for more information.
In addition, ESR has prepared a special report for the benefit of ex-offenders on how to get back into the workforce called, Criminal Records and Getting Back into the Workforce: Six Critical Steps for Ex-offenders Trying to Get Back into the Workforce It has been reprinted online and is available at: http://www.privacyrights.org/ar/rosencrim.htm